UPDATE to include Hamilton accord: As the cast of Hamilton looks forward to a portion of profits from the blockbuster, The Book of Mormon has paid its workshop actors about $3 million to-date for helping to develop that Broadway smash.
The estimate of royalties is based on financial results for Mormon obtained from the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman via a Freedom of Information Law request. (Royalties include only the Broadway production, as data from the London production and two national tours weren’t made available.) Chris Boneau, a Mormon spokesman, declined to comment. One Mormon actor who spoke on condition of anonymity said he’s been paid $20,000 to $40,000 a year in royalties.
Late Friday, a lawyer advising the Hamilton cast announced that producers agreed to a deal that “provides for the cast’s participation in the profit stream from the play,” according to the statement from Ronald Shechtman of Pryor Cashman. “There are sufficient particulars to form the bones of an agreement,” he said in an interview. He declined to disclose details, other than that he’d been involved in negotiations for just a couple of weeks. Hamilton opened on Aug. 6, following an acclaimed tryout at the Public Theater.
The discrepancy—millions in royalties for actors in one hit, zero so far for actors in the other—stems from a relatively new arrangement for actors who participate in a show’s development. The change will be the focus of a Town Hall meeting at Actors’ Equity on Monday afternoon. (Shechtman said Actors’ Equity wasn’t involved in the Hamilton deal.)
The traditional arrangement, which Book of Mormon used, dates back to 1974. That’s when director and choreographer Michael Bennett interviewed dancers in a Chelsea gym for what became A Chorus Line. He later arranged for royalties for those dancers and actors. When he wanted to use the same method for his next musical, Ballroom, Actors’ Equity pressed Bennett’s production company to formalize terms, which were hammered out in an all-night session that included Bernard Jacobs of the Shubert Organization. “That contract became the officially approved Actors’ Equity Agreement thereafter,” said John Breglio, Bennett’s lawyer and now a producer. “It was the document all producers were required to sign if they wanted to conduct a workshop.”
In exchange for paying actors a reduced fee and getting access to their ideas from the rehearsal room, the producers give the actors a share in the show’s potential success. The performers earn a minimum salary of $631 per five-day week and $757 per six-day week, according to the Equity website. As a group they usually share in about 1.5% of weekly operating profit, as well as part of subsidiary rights income, such as stock or amateur rights or a movie sale. The contract also requires producers to offer workshop actors the same roles in the first production, or buy them out for four weeks of the minimum union salary, currently $1,917 a week.
Mormon actors earned their enviable annuity by appearing in two workshops in 2010: one from mid-January to mid-February, the other in August. Around that time, the new “developmental lab” began proliferating. In this agreement, the producers pay actors $1,000 a week, but the performers aren’t entitled to buyouts if they’re replaced, or to royalties when the show’s produced.
Michael Cassara, a casting director, said in an interview that the first developmental lab he was aware of was in 2010 for a musical called Fat Camp, previously presented at the New York Musical Festival. The producers included Carl Levin, the business manager of the Tony Awards, and Dodger Theatricals (Jersey Boys). Levin and Michael David, president of The Dodgers, didn’t return calls. (Late last year, the Vineyard Theatre staged a version of Fat Camp, called Gigantic.)
Frozen, Freaky Friday, Bull Durham, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and Monsoon Wedding are among the musicals in the works that have issued casting notices for developmental labs. “There is actor outcry about the fact that the lab exists and has superseded workshops,” Cassara said. “I believe it’s an internal matter for the membership of Actors’ Equity.”
Maria Somma, an Actors’ Equity spokeswoman, said she couldn’t make anyone available at the union, which called the meeting for members who’ve been in a lab or workshop in the last two years. Cassara points out that lab contracts offer better salaries than workshops, and royalties are negligible if a show flops — or moot if it isn’t produced. Producer Ken Davenport said on his blog that producers “would rather spend a little more upfront” and not have obligations going forward. Royalties aren’t the issue, he said. “Giving the art a chance to breathe without weighing down the show’s development expenses is.”
An anonymous Twitter account, #Stand4Ham, had urged royalties for the Hamilton cast. Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr to great acclaim in the lucrative musical, retweeted such posts as, “Their fingerprints are on the work there forever. Forever.” Sam Rudy, a Hamilton spokesman, declined to comment.